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Editorial: Turn up the financial heat on hazing

Here’s how society should move against fraternities that can’t be broken of their hazing habit: Apply a version of the Al Capone rule. It’s about the money.

Capone – gangster, bootlegger, murderer – was ultimately brought down not for those crimes, but for income tax evasion. Fraternities that engage in dangerous and deadly acts of hazing should be subject to financial penalties that put them out of business.

The death of University at Buffalo freshman Sebastian Serafin-Bazan was linked to possible hazing activity at the Sigma Pi fraternity house on Custer Street. UB did the right thing by suspending all Greek activity on campus, at least until the fall, and forming a committee to examine the role of fraternities and sororities on campus.

We don’t yet know the full details of how Serafin-Bazan became ill and later died. If criminal conduct was involved, a story in Sunday’s News pointed out, it will be difficult to make criminal charges stick.

If the laws on the books aren’t up to the job of holding fraternities accountable for hazing deaths, financial pressures need to be applied. Whether that is colleges denying them funding, kicking them off campus, or victims’ families bringing civil lawsuits, organizations that can’t do away with dangerous behavior need to be squeezed in the pocketbook.

There are many examples of colleges suspending Greek activities after a tragedy or misdeed, only to have hazing return later when the fraternities are back in business. The suspensions sometimes are about as effective as sending a kid to his room for a timeout.

In November 2017, Ohio State University suspended all of its 37 fraternities after 11 had come under investigation during the academic year, mostly for alcohol and hazing violations.

Just last month, Ohio State placed two fraternities on probation for violating the university’s Code of Student Conduct rules governing alcohol. The school said Alpha Tau Omega committed alcohol and hazing violations in the fall 2018 semester. Sigma Phi Epsilon violated only alcohol rules, OSU said.

Serafin-Bazan, an 18-year-old from Westchester County, suffered cardiac arrest early in the morning of April 12. Toxicology tests showed no drugs or alcohol in Serafin-Bazan’s system, police sources said.

Fraternity brothers are believed to have ordered Serafin-Bazan to perform exercises inside the off-campus Sigma Pi house when he began to experience physical distress. He may have been suffering from the flu.

Another Sigma Pi chapter was linked to an Ohio University student’s death in November 2018. Collin Wiant died in a rooming house that was an unofficial annex of Sigma Pi’s chapter in Athens, Ohio. His parents filed a wrongful death suit against the fraternity.

Sigma Pi, which has more than 120 active chapters in North America, told CNN this month that it “deplores hazing” and is “establishing a revised alcohol policy that bans hard alcohol” from their premises. Given what is believed about Serafin-Bazan’s death, though, behavioral problems at the Buffalo chapter went beyond alcohol.

Hard decisions need to be made about how fraternities fit in with the educational mission of UB and other colleges. If legal remedies aren’t enough to control them, financial pressures are sure to get the attention of any fraternities or sororities that endanger their pledges’ lives.

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